Friday, June 19, 2009

Can she do it? (Yes, she can!)

Anybody have to watch hours upon hours of "Bob the Builder?" His theme songs is catchy. (See title.)
I'm hoping I can, anyway.

The great news is that on a lark, I entered a contest and pitched a story idea to an editor. I had the typical Eeyore thinking that I never win anything, that I'm the last to be chosen for dodgeball. You know how it goes...

Well the word came into today that my logline was selected. Next Wednesday, I get to pitch my manuscript to the real, life editor of the book line.

Wait, wait, wait. Did you say "manuscript?" As in, um...completed?

Heh, heh...funny thing know, I'm a little behind. A lot behind. So I've got a mad dash until June 24 to get my story knit together and ready to roll. I'm thrilled beyond belief, believe me. Just a little overwhelmed. And annoyed at my procrastinating ways.

Let the scramble to the summit commence...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review: "Defending Angels"

How the hell did I manage to pick up and purchase a cozy mystery? A legal cozy mystery? A legal, paranormal cozy mystery? It was that damn front-end marketing stores do that nab you at the bookstore checkout. (I buy more useless magazines and plastic bookmarks there than I know what to do with.)

It was the cover of Mary Stanton’s 2008 novel Defending Angels that caught me. It’s a really cute illustration, tombstones and all. (Can tombstones and spooky trees really be "cute?" Yes. Yes, they can. In a place I like to call Megan-land. You should visit. It's fun.)

The set up: I got cocky. I really did. I’d been watching the Jane Austen BBC movies. I joined JASNA. I thought I was ready to traipse from the Regency romances written by modern authors into the Georgette Heyer arena. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no…NO! I got lost in the Faulkner-esque sentences Heyer peppers her dialogue with. And they’re so proper. Nobody notices bosoms or man swells. Nobody really flirts inappropriately. People mostly behave as they should and somehow manage to fall in love somewhere in there (though I’m not sure I can ever find the turning point in her stories. I just turn the page and they’re quoting poetry. Bah.)

Anyhoo, I gave up mid-stride in Heyer’s “Faro’s Daughter.” Bad, me. Bad, bad, bad. I was bored. I wasn't reading it much when I had the time. I passed it on to my mother, who read Heyer back in the day and had fond memories of the writer. Good for her.
Randomly, I had looked up the definition of cozy mystery and was directed to Cozy Mystery List, a fantastic web resource for folks interested in that genre. After spending time at the site, I was one of those folks and when I happened upon this ghosty-looking cozy, I was in.

The official description: “With a long list of ethereal clients who need her help, Savannah lawyer Brianna Winston Beaufort's career choice is beginning to haunt her . . . An already dead businessman needs Bree's help to find his murderer and prove his innocence against the charge of greed, which comes from the mightiest hand of the law, the Celestial Court. And the verdict in this case could put Bree's life on the line-as well as her client's afterlife.”

The hook: Legalese. Afterlife. Graveyards. Savannah, Georgia. A lawyer new to town with a dead man as a client and a hunky PI entangling himself in her affairs. Renting an office on the bottom floor of a building constructed in the middle of an all-murderers' graveyard. I like it.

The verdict: Without giving away too much, this was one of those moments of serendipity where the stars aligned right and the right shade of yellow caught my eye at the checkout counter, causing me to look down and notice Ms. Stanton’s book. I’m glad I did.

Bree is a fantastic heroine. She’s smart. She’s got instincts. She rescues dogs from steel traps. She has annoying, overbearing parents. She sees ghosts. All the while staying believable. This story was honestly, incredibly interesting from start to finish. A celestial court? Nice.

There was the potential for romance, and it’s definitely a possibility for future volumes. Ms. Stanton leaves plenty unfinished (in a good way) and has begun what seems to be an incredibly promising series. Even for someone with no usual interest in legal dramas or cozies.

I can’t say enough good things about the book, but I’ll say one more. The next in Bree’s story is out. Angel’s Advocate was released on June 2, 2009 and I’m thrilled.

About the author:
From the author’s Web site: Mary Stanton has written two adult novels and eleven young adult novels. She has also written for television. Mary divides her time between a goat farm in upstate New York and a winter home in West Palm Beach. She also writes under the pen name Claudia Bishop. Visit Ms. Stanton’s Web site here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quote for today

"Delusions of grandeur make me feel a lot better about myself."

--Jane Wagner

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Failure as a means to succeed? Maybe so, maybe so...

Similar to Charlotte on Sex and the City, I have a secret love for all things self help at the local bookstore and it's a deep, dark secret of mine. I'm not sure why. I can't help it, really. And can you blame me? Who wouldn't look twice at the rows and rows of covers offering you more friends, more money, no stress, great sex, lots of power? Well, I would. Kind of. I tend to slow down near that section, but if its a busy day, I feel a sort of shame at being spotted by my peers as they pass me on their way to lattes, and chai teas.

Like they're thinking, "Oh, wow. She looks normal, but, y'know, she must not be. I mean, she's holding a Wayne Dyer (or insert any other self help guru here) book."

Which is why I love, love, love the magazine Psychology Today. It's like a neat little self-help book packaged and delivered once a month. Full of articles and insights and in a form you can actually carry on the bus with you or have sitting on your passenger seat without shrinking in shame when discovered.

This month's issue has an article on failure called "Resilience: Weathering the Storm." I thought it was a bit of good timing, seeing how not too long ago I wrote about my favorite personal failures here. I'm not sure my failures are significant or relevant enough to push me to some great new plane of existence, but it was fun to read nevertheless. (That said, I keep hoping my terrible sense of direction and ridiculous inflexibility will land me that corner office. Never hurts to think positive, right?)

Here's an excerpt:

"Failure, it says, is at worst a mixed blessing: It hurts, but can pay off in the form of learning and growth and wisdom.

Some psychologists, like the University of Virginia's Jonathan Haidt, go even further, arguing that adversity, setbacks, and even trauma may actually be necessary for people to be happy, successful, and fulfilled. "Post-traumatic growth," it's sometimes called. Its observers are building a solid foundation under the anecdotes about wildly successful people who credit their accomplishments to earlier failures that pushed them to the edge of the abyss.

Last fall, J.K. Rowling described to a Harvard grad class a perfect storm of failure—broken marriage, disapproval from her parents, poverty that bordered on homelessness—that sent her back to her first dream of writing because she had nothing left to lose. "Failure stripped away everything inessential," she said. "It taught me things about myself I could have learned no other way."

Apple founder Steve Jobs describes three apparent setbacks—dropping out of college, being fired from the company he founded, and being diagnosed with cancer—that ultimately proved portals to a better life. Each forced him to step back and gain perspective, to see the long view of his life. "I have failed over and over and over again, and that is why I succeed," said Michael Jordan—as did Oprah, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison, in slightly different words. Indeed, so oft-repeated is the trope that we lose sight of how strange it is. "

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Me and the Great, Big Tweety Letdown

I Tweet, therefore I’m lame…
I speak, of course, about Twitter. I’m such a mindless, easily duped lemming. I’m one of the 400 million twitter-heads with my own account, a couple followers, and a whole list of people way cooler than me that I follow. (Except for John Mayer. He’s not cooler than me. But more on that later.)

I signed up a few months ago because one of my favorite bloggers has a Tweet roll down the side of her blog, and I hate to admit it, I wanted to be just like her. And here comes the problem. She’s a fabric designer, a seamstress, an author, a creative genius…you get it. She tweets with interesting little insights into her life, all in under 140 words. And they’re interesting. The girl designs handbags, she sews peasant blouses (I’ve ruined about 3 attempts so far), she comes up with quiche recipes and witty lines of poetry to go along with her work. I mean, hello?

My tweets? For shame! I already knew I had a pretty hum-drum run each day, but Twitter exacerbates my feelings of inadequacy times, like, a million. Seriously. . Some sample tweet drafts of mine:

“Woke up late.”

“Woke up early.”

“I like chocolate milk.”

“I cleaned my cubicle. Got new stapler.”

“I need to pee.”

“Going to Wal-mart. Hate the long lines.”

“Ate pizza for lunch. Stained my shirt.”

“Baby hates me.”

“Bought new book.”


Is that what the 110 people (most of whom I’ve never met...the ones I do know, y'know, my friends, well I'm pretty sure I bribed them with a latte) really bargained for when they hit the “follow” button on my profile. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered. But have you seen my life? I work in a cube. I have two boys. I have a boyfriend. I drive a truck. That’s about as exciting as it gets these days…and yet. And yet I still fight back that competitive monster to finagle events in my life so that I might have some interesting tweets. For example:

“Held up bank. On the lam with $500,000 in owl figurines.”

“Ran away to Brazil today with P. Be back Monday.”

“Slapped a meter maid bc I felt like it.”

“Poked a bear in the eye with my knitting needles. Size 9.”

“Rode a moose to work.”

If Twitter gathers up little tiny moments in our lives like scraps and assembles them to make a larger fabric, well, my fabric is beige and boring and dull. It’s the same damn fabric, same damn stitch, over and over and over. Bah!

Following the TwitNits

I follow Ellen Degeneres. She’s hilarious. I follow Ashton Kutcher and I don’t know why (Maybe I just wanted him to beat CNN to 1,000,000 followers). I follow Larry King. He tries really hard to be insightful, but really you can tell he struggles with it as much as I do.

I follow John Mayer. His tweets make me to take those knitting needles back from the bear and stab my own eye. And that’s sad. I used to really like him. Smart, great lyrics, that sort of understated good looking guys get when they're not trying too hard. But he’s turned into one of those guys that tries really hard to be funny, but really sort of misses the mark...the guy at the party telling an unfunny story too loudly and continuing with it way past its mark? The guy you sorta nod and smile at as you make a beeline for the crab dip? Poor John Mayer. I can’t listen to “Say” without thinking about his tweet about socks and midgets and something else. (That’s not a direct quote, obviously. I’m not even sure socks and midgets ever made it to his tweets, I just remember they’re usually just plain out there and untethered. Sorta like him these days.)

So not only does Twitter lay bare all of my own boring minutia of daily life in Eagle River, Alaska, it’s actively killing the lofty, fairytale images of public figures that I’ve built up in my head. It’s akin to them burping out loud or leaving dirty underwear on the bathroom floor. Twitter is killing the romance for me...and once John Mayer's gone, what's left? I kid, I kid.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Was Mr Darcy really Dr Blackwell?

In my (ha!) spare time, I've been working to start a local chapter of JASNA and have been searching high and low for fellow Jane Austen fans. They are out there, I'm sure of it. And when we meet, madcap Regency hijinks will ensue. Guaranteed.

Anyway, as part of the planning and preparing, I started a Jane Austen in Alaska blog to spark local interest. I'm not in the habit of stealing entries (especially my own!), but thought my friends here would probably find this interesting. Most of us own two different versions of Pride and Prejudice and we've all had to read "Sense and Sensibility" in an English class or four. Anyway, my nerd superpowers sparked up when I found this and I had to share.

Last week, The Telegraph ran the following story: “The real-life Mr Darcy who broke Jane Austen’s heart during a summer romance was a clergyman”.

In the past, the mystery man has been Tom Lefroy, a relative of a family friend. A scholar in Britain, Dr Andrew Norman, has written a book entitled “Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love” out this month. In it, he provides evidence he believes points to one Dr Samuel Blackall. And how this romance led to a rift between Jane and her beloved sister Cassandra.

If you get to read the article, take a look at the comments on the bottom. A reader suggested that Blackall wasn’t Mr Darcy…that the evidence, elements, and timing of the romance would actually parallel Cpt. Wentworth in “Persuasion.” I’ve always thought “Persuasion” was Jane Austen writing a happy ending for herself.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"She's No Princess" (Book Review)

"She's No Princess" by
Laura Lee Gurhke

Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon (May 30, 2006)
Is it lame to review a book that’s not exactly new? Would you forgive me if I did, anyway? I lost my momentum with “What Would Jane Austen Do” and found myself at the used bookstore last Friday. Needing something new, but facing an AMAZINGLY HUGE wall of books that were all facing spine-out. How do you choose from there? Used bookstores often lack “showcases” of new/interesting books and you’re left with the incredibly sophisticated art of picking spines at random and hoping you eventually find something interesting.

Enter one Laura Lee Gurhke. Who is this author? And why haven’t I heard of her before? How has she managed to fly under my radar for so long? She had quite the expanse of shelf real estate at TitleWave, and I managed to nab “She’s No Princess” (SNP). I liked the cover, it was pink, I was in that sort of mood, and I went with it.

It seems that “SNP” is actually book four in a related series, with a name that I have yet to figure out. From the writing, you can tell a few couples make appearances in the story as cameos and I got the feeling they had their own novel a few years back. (A little research proved me right. Daphne and Grace both have their own stories.) It didn’t matter too much that I didn’t already “know” the cameo characters. I wasn’t jarred or left wondering who they really were. It worked.

Characters: Lucia. Oh, Lucia, Lucia. You were a feisty one. Half-Italian and the illegitimate child of a Bolgheri prince. Lucia is a hellion and determined to embarrass her royal father and listen to absolutely nothing he says. His solution? Marry the wild child off.

Enter Ian. (I even like the guys name.) A very upstanding British ambassador assigned to smooth relations with Bolgheri and find that wild, enticing Lucia a suitable husband from among the British peerage. Not so easy when the girl's got a scandal sheet four feet long. (I did like how Lucia’s actions caused her embarrassment and shame somewhat…all too often, heroines act out and crazy and there are no consequences…in this story, her consequences are a vital part to her character development and you really feel for her as she second guesses all her hell raising and what it really has cost her.)

Ian was sort of a stick in the mud to me, but also believable. He had his passionate side (eventually), but it sure took some reading to get there. And that’s ok.

Do you ever get frustrated by the stories where our leads fall in love and get naked within minutes of meeting? Seeeeriously? I roll my eyes when I come across those stories because none of us are ever perfectly poised and radiant when we happen upon a stranger in a glen (we’re usually caught picking our nose when someone rounds the corner, and who really hangs out in a glen, anyway?), we’re sure not always on our best behavior, and for the most part, we don’t meet a person and know RIGHT away that they are the ONE. Our loins don’t ache upon the first handshake, and we don’t break out into a glistening, sweaty sheen when they say our name. (Unless we’ve been at a bar far too long and had too many Coronas…but that’s another story in another genre altogether.)

Anyway, bottom line was Lucia + Ian ≠ Love at First Glance. He was bossy. She was stubborn and wore her gowns too revealing on purpose. It was great.

And their happy ending? Well, they got it, but the best part about this story was that they got it a little too soon and neither one was really prepared for it. Their “happy ending” wasn’t quite so happy at first and they really had to earn it. It was kind of uncomfortable to read for a while (in a good way) and you felt bad for these two. Like, "C'mon, get over it already and be happy!" Which made for good reading. Definitely 4+ stars.
Bottom line? "She's No Princess" was no run-of-the-mill romance. Sure, Ian's an alpha male and Lucia's a wild child, but Gurhke's got a way with her characters. They're not carbon copies of every other hero or heroine you've met. And that's a good thing, right?

Quote for Today

"I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them."

(Jane Austen)